Today: A Focus on David Pepper’s Step 12: When in Power, Create Laboratories of Democracy
Last year, Indivisibles were so impressed and inspired with David Pepper’s book “laboratories of Autocracy.” It illustrated perfectly the stakes of the 2022 midterms -even before Dobbs reared its ugly head. We worked diligently last year, especially in the swing states of Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, to prevent our nation from electing election deniers to state offices.
I highly recommend David Pepper’s book to learn about all the dirty tricks Republicans play to cement their power in the statehouses – from gerrymandering to cookie-cutter autocratic legislation to governmental negligence to voter suppression. But you may recall that I also called out the Massachusetts State House in my original article, Autocracy Alert: Massachusetts, for the anti-democratic (small d) structural problems in Beacon Hill’s legislature.
In 2023, we can take a breath to focus on the Massachusetts Government. It really needs our attention. Exhibit 1: Jan 4, 2023, Mariano decides to not swear in two duly elected and certified by Secretary Galvin and the Governor’s Council (both conservative, staid organizations) Democratic women. (After an outcry and hearing, Scarsdale was seated. As of this posting, Kassner has not been seated.) His motivation is unclear, but his action threw fuel on the fire of election denialism that still threatens our rule of law.
This year, what we must do is press on to David Pepper’s 30 Steps to Save Democracy. While they are all thought-provoking, today I want to talk about Step 12: When in Power, Protect and Strengthen Democracy, Create a Laboratory of DEMOCRACY. I am not suggesting we stoop to the dirty tricks Republicans pull as Autocrats in power- dark money, lobbyists writing legislation, defunding public institutions, or disenfranchising voters. Indeed, when Democrats are in power, we need to build the laboratory of democracy. Expand voting rights. Expand civil rights. Expand equity and fairness. Expand climate protections. Enact our democratic principles into law. Push the boundaries and show what a democracy can and should be.
Massachusetts is failing at promoting democracy. It didn’t used to be that way: the achievements of RomneyCare and Marriage Equality led the way for Americans to enjoy the expansion of their civil rights. More recently, we passed important legislation codifying ROE and overrode Charlie’s veto. These things were not easy to do, and they could not have been done without elected officials and activists working together to create a better government.
But somewhere along the way, we gave up our mantle of leadership. We turned inward, allowing popular bills to wallow in the legislature for 8, 10, 12 YEARS. We didn’t bother to come back into session to override Charlie’s veto. We accepted the Speaker’s excuse that we can’t have nice things because Charlie MIGHT veto it. So we watered down and undercut legislation before Charlie could even slow-walk his implementation of bills already years late.
No same day voter registration.
No safe communities act.
No prison building moratorium.
No no-cost prison calls.
No standardized sex education.
No reforming our flag (Can’t even get rid of that hovering sword)
No public record of how your Representative voted.
Still refusing to submit to normal records requests.
Still ranking in the bottom 4 states of transparency.
Still allowing bullying and harassment in the Statehouse
Still allowing the Speaker to have sole control over the promotions, salaries, staff and offices of each representative, so that they are working for him and not us.
So what can we do?
- Keep up the hard work that we already do to try to get legislation passed in a two-year cycle
- Write and call your Representative
- Attend hearings
- Attend forums explaining legislation
- Know your Representative
- Form a Coffee and Conversations small constituent group where you meet regularly to communicate your values and expectations for how your government should legislate
- Sign up for your State Senator and Representative’s newsletter, and follow them on social media
- Do not allow any anti-democracy backsliding
- Monitor your town and school meetings for extremist attacks. The Republicans know how to gin up fear and hate, especially in these smaller, less followed elections.
- Know your Select Board or Town Council and tell them that you expect them to strengthen and protect democratic principles.
- Continue to advocate in the Statehouse.
Finally, close every conversation with elected officials and their staff with a hard ask: Will you commit to being a leader in Massachusetts? A leader in promoting, strengthening and protecting democratic principles? Will you take risks to push against the quicksand of the status quo?
We are looking for leaders. It’s not just for us, but for all Americans. Blue states must share and push for best practices. Let’s show what we can DO with democracy.